Good Religion Gone Bad

Q: Eight years after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, fighting continues. Religious extremists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda retain significant power there. What is our moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan? If religion is part of the problem there, how can it be part of the solution?

Millions of American Christians stepped from their pews on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001, into the news about the American attack on Afghanistan. They went from Good News to war news, from worshipping the Prince of Peace to worrying about air strikes in the darkness a world away.

The symbolism was undeniable: A perceived Christian superpower had launched a war on its most sacred day of the week against terrorists who had used Islam to justify their attacks on Sept. 11. It was Christianity versus Islam, and vice versa. It was the misuse of religion to validate violence. It was the belief that wrongs can make a right.

Eight years later, war-making continues.

But something new is happening, thanks to the Islamic leaders who issued a 29-page letter to worldwide Christian leaders titled “A Common Word Between Us and You.”

“Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders,” read the letter. ”Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history…Together they make up more than 55 percent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.”

The document warned: “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants.”

Christian and Muslim leaders are now seeking common ground around the common word found in both their faith traditions–love for neighbor. Finding ways to apply that moral imperative continues this week at Georgetown University, expanding on similar gatherings at Yale University, the University of Cambridge and the Vatican.

These high-profile conferences bring together the elites, the academicians, the known leaders. Yet these events are being replicated without coordination as common folk seek the common word with those of the other faith.

Good religion rightly applied is likely the only long-term solution to the intractable conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Even if good religion grinds too slowly for most of us, it is far superior to religion gone bad.

And while some of us wait impatiently for good religion to carry the day, we know that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”